What is water based ink?

For decades, the standard ink for screen printing has been plasitol but in recent years water based ink is has made a major impact on the print industry. To better understand the benefits of water based ink and why I chose to go all in with this type of ink, it helps to first understand what plastisol ink is and why it’s used most of the time in screen printing.

According to Wikipedia, plasitol is a suspension of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or other polymer particles in a liquid plasticizer. It’s a great option because it’s typically a very opaque ink and works well with printing vibrant designs onto darker garments. What that means is since it’s so opaque, you’re able to keep the vibrance of a print even on darker shirts. The other major benefit for screen printing that plastisol provides is the fact that it will never dry or cure unless it’s heated. That means it never dries on press or in the screens, which makes taking breaks during a print a breeze. You never have to worry about the ink drying in the screen while you’re away and you can come back and pick right up where you left off. That’s really helpful on long runs of a few hundred shirts or more. You can work on these projects over a few days rather than all at once.

So with those benefits, why have I chosen not to use plastisol?

For me, my decision was based on the quality of the final product. Before I started my own print company, I worked at a print shop that used only plastisol ink. We produced some great prints and I was ordering apparel for my own brands that were turning out great. However, I noticed that sometimes the prints ended up being really thick and all but ruined the comfort level of the really nice, premium triblend shirts that I was ordering.

The key thing to know about plastisol, besides the fact that it contains plastic and chemicals, is that when plastisol is printed onto a shirt, the ink sits on top of the fibers of the shirt rather than soaking into the shirt. This forms a layer of ink on the shirt and sometimes that layer can be thick and feel like a layer of plastic on a shirt. If you’re just getting some shirts for an event as giveaways or you don’t really care about the comfort of the end result, then maybe the plastic feel of the final print is fine with you. I hated it and I knew I wanted something different for my brands. I was willing to spend more on the apparel I ordered so that my customers would get the most comfortable shirt their money could buy. I wanted them to love it so much they bought more!

Water based ink hit solved all of the plastisol negatives for me.

When I started Alpine Apparel Company, I was told that plastisol was going to be my best option for printing because it would be easier for me to work with. But I was willing to put in the work, money, and time to make water based work for me because I wanted to produce a great end product for my customers.

Unlike plastisol ink, water based ink actually soaks into the fibers of the shirt. That means the end result is often much thinner than a plastisol print. Often times you can hardly even feel a water based print on a shirt, especially after a couple of washes. It’s a great print option for the nicer, premium triblend shirts that I prefer to use for my own brands.

Of course, water based ink has its drawbacks. For one, it’s much more difficult to work with. The ink will air dry, just like water, so that means it’s difficult to stop a print once you start. If I take a break halfway through a water based print run, I have to stop and clean out the screen completely and then start fresh once I’m ready to begin again. It not only costs time but also costs more money and leads to wasted ink.

So what does water based ink mean for you?

If you’re looking for high-quality apparel whether for retail sales or just for your own business or personal use, you’re going to want the print to enhance the shirt. There are a lot of factors that go into making a decision about apparel printing, but one thing I will always recommend is water based ink over plastisol. The end result is so much better. If you’ve ever had a plastisol print that has cracked or flaked off of the shirt, then you know what the end result of plastisol is often like. You’re in for a treat with water based ink. You might pay a little more but I think you’ll agree it’s worth it once you feel the difference.

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